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How Music Enhances Storytelling; Benefits and Uses

How Music Enhances Storytelling; Benefits and Uses


From time immemorial, music has been used to tell stories. Some of the oldest, greatest tales, myths, and legends are written in song and rhymes. Town criers and praise singers have been known to use rhyme and rhythm in their messaging to make it sticky.
African- American slaves would create and sing songs while they toiled away in the hot fields inspiring hope that one day, they would be free men, folksingers used song to fight back against the government, to raise awareness and to give hope and wars were fought and won based on inspiration from war chants which increased determination and bolstered courage.
How can the inclusion of music in its aural or written form be used to improve storytelling?

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According to an article by A Journal of Neurology, one of the most dramatic effects of music’s power is the induction of trance-like states which involve motor, emotional, psychic and autonomic responses as propounded by Gilbert Rouet, in his book, Music and Trance. Also experiments have shown that when messages are communicated in these state, they tend to make the decoder more receptive and more willing to take action in accordance with the message.

An example of this is an experiment conducted on the effect of acid rock music on its listeners where the conclusion was drawn that the syncopated beats of acid rock worked like hypnosis, suspending rational reasoning and making the listeners susceptible to the messaging in the music. This in turn accounted for the degree of depression and violent behaviours in listeners of this music genre.
The focus of this study however, is centred around how we can use this innate power of music to enhance receptiveness for messaging as it concerns marketing communication endeavours. In line with this, a forward thinking digital agency has chosen to uniquely position themselves using this element of music . According to a digital company resident in the US, If you want to appeal to the subconscious and compel people to act, you have to form an emotional connection and music is a powerful, invisible tool in achieving that goal. Music determines the level of receptiveness of your message and can help influence the way people interpret it ultimately guiding buyer decisions. They go further to posit that music gives you the opportunity to tell your story in a different way and plays a crucial role in content marketing by influencing the attention span consumers give your message. Hence music steers storylines, drives audience engagement and increases consumer retention thereby making the story not only more interesting but more impactful.

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This also brings to question the use of music imagery in the written work. For example, can a blogger inspire similar emotions by creating the imagining of music within a blog post?

The prose work of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart comes to mind here. In describing the wrestling match between Okonkwo and Amalinze the cat we could attempt to project the imagery into the reader’s mind by immersing him in the story and giving him a 3rd person presence by a short descriptive narrative which will include some elements of music like this;
Okonkwo’s heart began pumping hard in time to the beat of the ekwe drum. His Chi must have just downed a bottle of gin because despite his fear he felt strength, he felt a giddiness that signalled that he was not a coward. Ebubedike! Ebubedike!! Ebubedike!!! son of strength mighty man from a mighty lineage, a man the stuff of legends, yes!! That will be his name today, not just a chant from his grand mothers lips. And this brought with it strength even as he attempted to defeat the undefeated and unfelled champion of Umuofia, Amalinze the Cat.
They began with the dance of circles, staring each other down to gauge their fear. Their palms came up as they sought the grip of twist- to fell the other into nothingness and disgrace, they danced and bantered until, Amalinze fell upon Okonkwo, gripping the teens shoulders, determined that this small boy will not bring him shame.
Then Okonkwo in a twist of fate, untangled his shoulders from the grip of disgrace in turn twisting Amalinze to a fall.
There was stunned and gripping silence as people grappled with the scene before them then the flutes began their songs- preceding the astounding applaud.
The flutist breathe fast paced tunes through his flute, his song resonating in Okonkwo’s head… indeed he had won, he had defeated the cat of Umuofia, he had proven himself a Lion indeed, a Lion from the line of sheep.

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Another narrative, Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman also brings nostalgic memories of the strong reverençe prevalent in the culture of the Yoruba. For example, in trying to appeal to the subconscious through the imagination of music in this dramatic piece, I could paint an image of how the Eleshin entered into the trance that would precede his death describing it thus;

The gangan spoke of his bravery, it told of his ancestry, of how his lineage had been chosen as horses for royalty, it sang of the praise of his tradition and how honour accompanied him into a glorious death.
He, the horse, white and full of vigour trotted towards the path of the spirits, the Oba and all royal ancestry of Yoruba beckoned on him, welcoming him into his purpose….into his death.
The bata drums began their own praise chant , they sang of a glorious end, one befitting and glorious enough for a royal cart……one befitting the Eleshin Oba.

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Though, music in its aural form is missing in the elements above, the imaginings of the music produced by the drum and flute might have helped transport the reader into the wrestling arena in an otherwise quiet village of Umuofia, somewhere in eastern Nigeria while the imagery pulled out of Soyinka’s play has given us an insight into the workings and inner turmoil of the Eleshin as he walked into his death.

Further research shows that when we include music in storytelling, it makes for more active involvement in the messaging as we tend to listen more deeply and feel more intensely. Music also makes us more relaxed which goes a long way to determine the level of receptiveness to the message, again it enhances memory, it makes the message much more sticker and also elevates our mood by making us happier, inevitably associating the messages with a happy mood.
In conclusion, research backs the fact that people respond positively to music. It has been shown that music playing in a shop can encourage customers to spend more time and money there with some 90% of people preferring a shop that was playing music over one that is not. Also, 74% of businesses believe music is important to overall customer experience, 72% say it’s more important than decor to customers and 50% say they would never stop playing music. So when next you put out a piece of content, try and include some background music to it but if you cannot, do include a semblance of music in the story itself, you will be surprised at how imaginative and in depth our minds will process that information.
Amaka Olukoya is the Chief Content Curator Purple Pens Nigeria
Purple Pens is a content curation and storytelling boutique www.purplepens.com.ng

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